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Showing posts from September, 2009

The truth about evolution

I hope this doesn't turn into a rant, but it might. You have been warned.

Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.

I say these things not because I'm crazy or because I've "converted" to evolution. I say these things because they are true. I'm motivated this morning by reading yet another clueless, well-meaning person pompously declaring that evolution is a failure. People who say that are either unacquainted with the inner workings of science or unacquainted with …

From the Library: The Deluge Universal

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For those just joining us, "From the Library" spotlights interesting items in the library of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College.

Anyone who's anyone in the creation/evolution debate thinks they know where young-age creationism came from. Some think it originated very recently from the book The Genesis Flood by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb. Others (slightly better informed) place its origin in the context of the fundamentalist movement and especially the Scopes trial. Even better informed people (like Ron Numbers) blame George McCready Price and ultimately SDA prophetess Ellen G. White. All are proceeding under the assumption that creationism is a relatively recent aberration, properly understood in the context of religious reaction to Darwin's Origin of Species.

I think that's quite wrong. I strongly suspect (and have for some time) that the young-age creation position has sort of been the default for most Christians for a long, long time. By …

More drama!

Just when the pseudo-flap over Creation and its distribution is dying down, news comes of two more creation/evolution-related film productions. The first is a two-hour NOVA special titled Darwin's Darkest Hour, which chronicles the writing of Origin of Species. Hmmmmm.... seems familiar. Playing Darwin is Henry Ian Cusick, known to most Americans as Desmond, the man who pushed the button in the Swan Station for years before Jack, Locke, and the rest of the Losties blew the hatch open with dynamite. The special airs October 6. Check your local listings for the exact time. I sincerely hope it's interesting and entertaining.

From Mlive.com comes a story about amateur screenwriter Fred Foote's production Alleged being filmed in Michigan. Alleged is about the Scopes Trial, or at least what Fred Foote thinks the Scopes Trial was about. According to the article, "... the trial was actually a tool of the progressive elite of the time, to promote Darwinism for its own d…

Last week in the world of science

There were a number of interesting papers published in the scientific literature last week. Here's a brief recap of those I found interesting:

Novo et al. 2009. Eukaryote-to-eukaryote gene transfer events revealed by the genome sequence of the wine yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae EC1118. PNAS 106:16333-16338.

Gene transfer is extremely common in prokaryotes, but it's fairly rare in eukaryotes. Novo et al. sequenced the genome of S. cerevisiae EC1118 and found three regions totalling 120 kb of DNA that had been transfered in from at least two other yeast species. These weren't just transposable elements, but contained some genes used the winemaking process. As I said, this kind of transfer of metabolically-useful genes is common in bacteria but not well-known in eukaryotes. I wonder if this is also common in eukaryotes, but we just haven't noticed it? It certainly raises the question of how these genes get transfered.

Spaulding et al. 2009. Relationships of Cetacea…

Human origins in PNAS

This week's PNAS has a special feature called "Out of Africa: Modern Human Origins." All the articles are open access and worth looking at.

Tattersall. 2009. Human origins: Out of Africa. PNAS 106:16018-16021.

Weaver. 2009. The meaning of Neandertal skeletal morphology. PNAS 106:16028-16033.

Hublin. 2009. The origin of Neandertals. PNAS 106:16022-16027.

Richards and Trinkaus. 2009. Isotopic evidence for the diets of European Neanderthals and early modern humans. PNAS 106:16034-16039.

Hoffecker. 2009. The spread of modern humans in Europe. PNAS 106:16040-16045.

Rightmire. 2009. Middle and later Pleistocene hominins in Africa and Southwest Asia. PNAS 106:16046-16050.

d'Errico et al. 2009. Additional evidence on the use of personal ornaments in the Middle Paleolithic of North Africa. PNAS 106:16051-16056.

DeGiorgio et al. 2009. Explaining worldwide patterns of human genetic variation using a coalescent-based serial founder model of migration outward from A…

Creation coming in December

The Hollywood Reporter says John Amiel's new Darwin pic Creation will be distributed in the United States by Newmarket (the company that distributed The Passion of the Christ). What a surprise. The secret cabal of creationist boogeymen failed spectacularly to keep this film out of American theaters. I'm glad to see that the Hollywood Reporter isn't naive enough to repeat that drivel, instead saying,
The movie was generally well-received when it opened Toronto two weeks ago, though given its period aspects, found a slightly tougher acquisitions market.

Come December when Newmarket hopes to release the film, I suspect that Creation will probably not open at your local megaplex (which instead will have Avatar and 2012 playing on most screens). This looks like it'll play on one or two screens in most cities and will probably be seen by very few, due to the lack of robots, high speed chases, and scantily clad women. I for one am glad it's coming to the US, and I hope…

Microbes begin

There's an interesting paper over at Answers Research Journal by Joe Francis and Georgia Purdom (both of the BSG Executive Council), "More abundant than stars: an introductory overview of creation microbiology." It's not an earth-shattering article (mostly just a general overview of microbes), but it does raise a few interesting questions. I thought this was especially thought-provoking:

...we propose, as a first attempt at classification, dividing all microbes into two groups: 1) the free living organosubstrate microbes and, 2) microbes associated with metazoan organisms (Wise pers. comm.). The organism-associated bacteria would not be considered as independent free living microbes but instead as extra-corporeal or extra-cellular organelles and tissues. Thus, humans would not be considered as mosaic creations but as individuals created in the image of God who contain both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells and tissues.
I'm not sure why they limit it to metazoans (…

That is one big mushroom

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Guess what happens when it rains for two weeks nonstop in east Tennessee? The mushrooms get big, develop sentience, and begin plotting to take over the world. I found this particular specimen in my yard.

Random bits from last week

Here are a few articles from last week that I found interesting. Since I was busy blogging about everything else under the sun, I never got to these:

In Am J Bot, Karagatzides and Ellison found that the cost of building a trap on a carnivorous plant is less than building a leaf. Why do I care? I like carnivorous plants.

In Science, Zhang et al. developed a 3D structural look at the central metabolic network of the thermophilic bacterium Thermotoga maritima. Not sure why this merited a Science publication, but I've got a soft spot for protein structural biology.

And in the world of transposable elements, the genome sequence of potato famine pathogen Phytophthora infestans had a plethora of repetitive sequences. Katzourakis et al. found an endogenous foamy retrovirus in a sloth genome.

Haas et al. 2009. Genome sequence and analysis of the Irish potato famine pathogen Phytophthora infestans.Nature 461:393-398.

Karagatzides and Ellison. 2009. Construction costs, payback times, and …

Notch revisited

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Quite a while back, Steve Matheson posted an interesting item and challenge on his blog about the Notch protein. His post gives a lot of detail on Notch itself, so I won't cover it again here but instead just rehash the basics. There's a protein called Notch that is used in cell-cell signalling during embryonic development. It's found in flies, jellyfish, sea urchins, humans, frogs, and many other critters. Steve asks the important question, "Why does every animal use Notch?" He gives three options: (1) It's the only functional option, (2) It's historical contingency, (3) It's the personal preference of a designer. He rules out (1), since Notch's function is so simple it could be done by many different proteins. It's like a key & lock; no need to use the same key in every lock. Option (3) would require some knowledge of the designer and the designer's preferences, which ID is notoriously unwilling to hypothesize on. Steve pref…

Creation and the creationist boogeyman!

You might remember earlier this week, I was ranting about the producers of Jon Amiel's new film Creation about Charles Darwin. Seems the film hasn't yet been picked up for distribution in the U.S., and the producers were blaming the creationist controversy for scaring away distributors. I thought that claim was nonsense, especially since so very many controversial films get picked up for distribution. Conservative Christians don't determine what you see in theaters; the almighty dollar does. If there's a buck to be made, some company will distribute it.

Not surprisingly, though, there were plenty of (gullible) people who fell for the ruse, but to my delight, several thoughtful commentators saw through the silliness. Over at Newsweek, Sarah Ball points out that "Even Paul Bettany Can't Make Charles Darwin Sexy" (great title). Her point? It's a period drama that's not likely to make much money, and in this economy, distributors want a sure thi…

War and Peace audio

Some of you might recall that CORE and the Bryan Institute for Critical Thought and Practice hosted a symposium in February titled "War and Peace: 150 Years of Christian Encounters with Darwin." The speakers were myself, Ted Davis (Messiah College), Jon Roberts (Boston University), Steve Matheson (Calvin College), and me. I summarized the event here.

The audio for the event has now been posted online. Here are the sessions in order:

"A look at Darwin's life," Todd Wood (preview session in Friday chapel)
"Changing Protestant responses to Darwinism, 1859-1900," Jon Roberts
"Religion and Science in Modern America," Ted Davis
"Evolution and Creation at Calvin College," Steve Matheson
"Caught in the Middle: The Unusual Views of Erich Wasmann," Todd Wood
Closing panel discussion

It should be obvious that the statements of these individuals do not represent the official positions of Bryan College or CORE, nor does their appearance he…

Human genome variation

I've been reading the latest issue of Genome Research lately, and there's a lot of interesting material in it regarding human genome variation.

First up, Xing et al. look at structural variation created by mobile elements in the human genome. They compared a diploid human genome sequence to the Human Genome Project sequence and found more than 8,000 structural variants. Looking at the variants in the diploid genome caused by mobile elements, they found 706 insertions totaling 305 kb and 140 deletions totaling 126 kb. That's not a lot of DNA (305 kb is about 0.01% of the haploid human genome), but 846 mobile element changes in the human species alone seems like a lot of activity to me. They estimated new Alu elements appear in 1 in 21 births, which is a lot. I guarantee you know someone with a novel Alu element insertion. Probably more than one. And all this variation is likely to have a phenotypic effect, given that Xing et al. found about a third of the indel event…

Of Sound and Fury

Here's an announcement about a new Scopes Trial documentary from Tom Davis, the college's resident Scopes Trial and public information guru:
"Of Sound and Fury," an award-winning documentary about the Scopes Trial produced by the staff of Timberlane High School in Plaistow, N.H., will have its premiere showing Sunday at the Rhea County Courthouse at 2:30 p.m. The Timberlane drama department produced the play "Inherit the Wind," and teachers wanted their students to understand the difference between the plan and the historical record, hence the documentary. Because of the assistance rendered to the production staff, Bryan College is credited as a co-producer with Timberlane and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Dr. Edward J. Larson. The documentary will be presented as the program for the regular meeting of the Rhea County Historical and Genealogical Society, and all are invited to attend.
Tom says DVDs of the documentary will be available at the courthouse on …

Fall 2009 journal club schedule posted

For you local readers, the journal club schedule for this fall has been posted at the CORE website.
Fall 2009 journal club

Journal club is a time for interested faculty, staff, and students to get together and discuss recent papers and research in creationism. We've got an interesting schedule this fall, and we always have a good time. This semester, we'll meet in Mercer 139 at our usual time of 5:00 on Tuesdays. If you're in the neighborhood, we hope to see you there.

From the Library: Rastus Agustus Explains Evolution

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For those just joining us, "From the Library" spotlights interesting items in the library of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College.

While I was home for Christmas, I visited my favorite antiquarian bookstore in East Lansing to find that it had been remodeled to about half the size it used to be and the bookstore cat died last year. Bummer. Then I found Rastus Agustus Explains Evolution, a first edition in pristine condition, and that sort of made up for the lack of a kitty rubbing against my leg while I browsed. RIP, Moe the cat.

Rastus Agustus Explains Evolution (1928) was written by B.H. Shadduck, an Ohio pastor and author of such bizarre propaganda classics as Puddle to Paradise and Jocko Homo Heavenbound. Rastus Agustus has to be one of the worst antievolution pamphlets I've ever seen. Imagine Jack Chick's Big Daddy, only a thousand times more tasteless and offensive. Rastus included an advertisement for other pamphlets written by Shadduck, wherein…

A few more Creation reviews

I'm making no effort to systematically record reactions to the new Darwin movie Creation. I'm just posting reviews as I find them. If you want systematic, go to Rotten Tomatoes.

Eric Kohn, IndieWire (didn't really like it)
Ray Bennet, Reuters (gushing)
Owen Craig, ReelAddict.com (didn't really like it either)

Then there's this preposterously pandering piece from the Telegraph:
Charles Darwin film 'too controversial for religious America'

Apparently producers are blaming the creation/evolution wars for preventing the film from getting a distribution deal in the US. Yeah. What a load. This is America we're talking about. The same place that Showgirls got a distribution deal. The same place that Religulous and Expelled got distribution deals. The same place that Michael Moore's films continue to get distribution deals. Yeah, we're so sensitive that we can't possibly tolerate a little controversy. Gimme a break. Controversy sells tickets, f…

Creation reviews

Here are a few more reviews of the new film Creation (which was picked up for distribution in Canada):

Dennis Harvey, Variety
Ann Brodie, Metro Canada
Fionnuala Halligan, Screendaily.com
Cartuna, Aintitcool.com

After reading those, I'm becoming less and less enthusiastic. Sounds like it might be as melodramatic as Inherit the Wind, and the reviews are already spreading disinformation (Darwin was not an atheist but an agnostic). (In case you care, Eugenie Scott liked it. Surprise, surprise.)

Maybe I'm just too pessimistic. I hope so. (If I hope I'm not a pessimist, does that make me an optimist?)

Horizontal transfer and invasive species

The latest issue of PNAS has two articles of interest to creation biology. The first is a piece on the origin of cholera. Chun et al. studied 23 genome sequences of pathogenic Vibrio cholerae isolated over the past 98 years. They found that recombination and lateral gene transfer are important factors in the emergence of different strains of the pathogen. As I noted before with malaria, the origin of pathogens and natural evil can be quite complicated. In this case, the origin and persistence of Vibrio pathogens by lateral gene transfer is quite interesting, given what I've speculated in the past about genomic modularity.

The next article is on one of my new favorite topics: invasive species. I've come to suspect that invasives could be a good model for recovery after the Flood. Lankau et al. studied the production of secondary compounds in populations of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a Eurasian plant that is invasive in the eastern US. In plants, secondary compo…

Roger Ebert on Creation

The Toronto International Film Festival opened last night with Creation, the new Jon Amiel film about Charles Darwin starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly. Here's Ebert's reaction. It's not a review but more of a commentary, and I'm somewhat torn by what I read. Some of the details Ebert gives are clearly melodramatic flourishes (Charles walking out of a sermon on Genesis, Emma's "fervent" Christianity, Annie's alleged contribution to embolden Charles to publish Origin), but then making a movie of someone's actual life would be a boring affair without a little drama thrown in. I wonder whether the movie will wallow in the alleged faith/science conflict or merely skirt that issue? Ebert says that it is never dealt with directly, which I find slightly reassuring, even if the added bits of drama cause me to roll my eyes.

Ebert seems quite self-assured about the creation/evolution issue, which anyone who followed his reactions to Expelled al…

Students: credibility is not for sale

Having been in this creationism game for a long time and involved in Christian higher education for nearly a decade, I occasionally run across students or colleagues with a particularly bothersome attitude. It goes something like this: "I want to get involved in creationist ministry, and I need a degree so that people will listen to me and not just dismiss me as a crank." This attitude is not terribly common, but it is pretty demoralizing when I encounter such folks. Having just run into it again, I thought I'd post a few thoughts that might be useful to future students.

First, you can't buy credibility with a degree. If you are a creationist looking for credibility with noncreationists, it's a losing proposition. Just being a creationist ruins whatever credibility you might have had in the eyes of the world. The best you can hope for is a kind of grudging acknowledgment that you're not a complete idiot. You better learn to be content with that sooner …

Kurt Wise at Truett-McConnell

In case you (like me) missed the press release on former CORE director Kurt Wise's move to Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, GA, you'll find it here:
Creation Research Center Established at TMC

TMC president Emir Caner is quoted saying, "Make no mistake about it, the appointment of Dr. Wise will allow Truett-McConnell College to surge forward in once again marrying the fields of science and theology." That's pretty exciting. It's nice to see the ranks of colleges genuinely interested in creation growing.

A new look, bacteria, and silly weasels

I've been doing this blog thing for nine months now, and I decided I'm tired of looking at that old light blue template. So I'm giving this a try instead. I'm not sure I like it, but it's different.

And to make this post not entirely useless, read about Rock Dissolving Bacteria in Desert Cacti at Paul Garner's blog, or check out Steve Matheson's revelations about that stupid weasel program everyone is yammering about. May I add to Steve's frustration the simple observation that Dawkins's program was nothing more than an illustration. It means no more than any other over-simplified classroom demonstration, which is to say, next to nothing. The hysteria over Dawkins is analogous to getting upset because the proteins illustrated in my biochem textbook have fancy colors which they don't have in real life. It's just illustrative. Get over it already.

Creation Sabbath

I'm not a Seventh-day Adventist, but I know a good idea when I see it. The SDA church has designated October 24 as "Creation Sabbath." They've set up a website to encourage their local congregations to celebrate creation as
a way of acknowledging God as our Creator and the implications that this biblical teaching has for usand
to create a worldwide sense of unity in promoting this belief in a positive light.The Loma Linda University Church is having a "Celebration of Creation" that weekend, where you can hear presentations by Art Chadwick, Leonard Brand, Raul Esperante, Jim Gibson, Tim Standish, John Baldwin, and others. If I were in the neighborhood, that would be a conference well worth attending.